Design is never done

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes great design, particularly in my area of interest, Interaction Design. Elements of what I’ve been pondering has already been written about, so I thought I would take some time to write this, mainly to get the thoughts out of my head (seeing as they may be of use to other designers) as well as letting it serve as a constant reminder to myself.

Design is many things. Design has many layers and different roots in a multitude of traditions, such as art, architecture and technology. But much as with art, it is only truly great when it touches you in a deep and significant way. When you see a beautiful painting or hear a great piece of music, you experience the art in a way that changes you and your emotions. You experience the art and its effects on you. It makes you think. It makes you feel.

The same goes for great design. Design is great when the experience is great. Great design feels right. What makes the experience great? A deep sense of caring about every last detail that all make up your design in order to make the user experience as great as possible, based on the user’s needs and values. To me, this it what makes Interaction Design especially beautiful and important.

When the interaction with your design is well thought-out, the design helps the user be successful in achieving their goals. If your product or design does not do that, it has no reason for being.

As a designer, it’s easy to plow ahead when designing something because we have an urge to create, and we value things that are somewhat superfluous in many other fields of work; making beautiful things, shaping the aesthetics etc. We strive to do that in every part of our work as designers, because we want to make great design. But in that, the greatest mistake a designer can make is easily made: forgetting the user.

It is easy to become so blinded by your own ideas and ways of thinking that you forget you’re really out there to solve problems for the end user; not yourself. It is all too easy to fall in love with your first idea and not get anywhere beyond that point — especially if you do not constantly have the user in mind.

If you’re thinking to yourself: “This works for me”, you’ve already failed.

The user needs us to make something so easy to understand that they’re able to actually use the design. It may be easy for us to understand because we are designers. But the user is not a designer. The user is only interested in “Does this work for me?”. Design for users. Not designers.

Though we like to think so, most users don’t care about our choice of color, as long as it’s clear what they’re there for. They don’t care about our meticulously chosen typefaces if they can’t read the text. The users don’t care about our cool animations if they serve more as a distraction than an aid. There is a great balance between making something that looks great and making something that worksgreat. Just because you’re achieve the former doesn’t mean you’re achieved the latter. Design is not what it looks like; design is how it works.

Though design is many things, if there is one thing I firmly believe above all — besides having the user in mind — it is that design is never done.

As the world evolves, people evolve, and as designers, we must stay ahead of the curve in order to shape the things that will help millions of people around the world be better people and live better lives. It’s a privilege that we get to be the collective mind behind the tools that play a huge part of making the human race move forward. Your role, no matter how small, is important in bridging the gap between people and technology. Our role is so important that it doesn’t allow for stagnation. We must move forward. We must make things work.

Design is the communication between the user and technology, and you are the facilitator of that conversation. Make it as easy to understand as possible.

So when you’ve made something you believe is final, test it. Improve on it. The process must go on inside of your mind, driven by the questions of: “How do I make this better? How can I improve this? How do I make this easier to understand?”. Of course you may have a deadline in order to finish what you’re currently working on, but these underlying questions must never change. After each iteration, use the newly obtained knowledge to do better next time. And the next time. And the next time after that.

That is the only thing that truly works. Thus, keep this in mind when designing:

  1. The user always comes first
  2. Interaction is key
  3. Never settle with your first idea
  4. Make your design matter
  5. Never stop iterating
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